Looking back at these pictures makes me want to redo our Christmas vaca all over again! One night we went to the ICE! display at the National Harbor. It was a hoot! Inside the display it was a huge 9 degrees! They provided us with these coats and in we went! We all got a good laugh at Annie in her ensemble. She was obviously not a fan! The ice sculptures were made up of 2 tons of ice. I could hardly believe it was ice. It is amazing that there are people talented enough to chisel like this! The best part was the nativity and silent night music playing at the very end. Two cheers for the real meaning of Christmas! PS - don't I have the cutest sisters-in-law ever? We missed you Katie and Vonn!

Washington DC Temple

For me, one of the best nights on our trip was when James and I got to sneak away to the temple. I had never been to the DC temple and James' hadn't been back since he first went through 9 years ago. It is so beautifully stunning. I was reminded of all the covenants James and I have made to one another and how blessed I am to have my family forever and ever. I kept thinking how very blessed we are to be able to have a place where James and I can escape all of our cares, pray about what lies ahead and be at peace. I wish I could somehow convey to everyone how wonderful this place truly is. It was also fun to see a few familiar faces in the temple. 

When we came out we saw a darling couple outside snapping pictures. We stopped to chat and quickly learned that it was the "meet the parents" trip. The boyfriend was out (from Utah) meeting the parents  over the New Year. James and I told them we know how this story ends… as that was exactly what we were doing four years ago to the day. What a fun reminder. So much has happened in just four short years.

Afterwards we went to dinner at Coastal Flats in Tyson's Mall. James had me in stitches the entire dinner. He's always such a tease. It was the perfect night. Thanks to the Barkers for watching Annie for us several times over the holiday so we could get some much needed one-on-one time.

Old Ebbitt Grill and the White House Christmas Tree

The day after Christmas we went to the historic Ebbitt Grill in downtown DC. We were lucky enough to get a table in this tiny cove off the side of the restaurant. It felt like we had a private dining room and was perfect for our whole gang. The restaurant is the oldest restaurant/saloon in DC. Founded in 1856 it has quite the running list of President's and important leaders who have dined in the meeting house. According to their website, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Clevland Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding all dined here in its early days. Besides just its history, this was a really fun dinner! Great conversation and food. Annie did very well with a massive pack of stickers Nana brought for her and she enjoyed showing off her alphabet skills for a roaring applause from her family. Outside the restaurant they have these giant nutcrackers, which obviously make for a great photo-op.

After dinner, James, Allie and I took Annie to see the White House Christmas tree. It was beautiful with the White House in the back ground. It was a fabulous night out in DC. Can't ever get enough of this place.


Christmas Day 2013

Christmas morning was just what I expected… and then some! My heart feels like it may leap out of my chest looking at these pictures nearly 2 months later. Oh my goodness is it magical to be a parent on Christmas morning! And I thought being a kid was fun? This is the good stuff right here! It's not about the gifts. It's not about the stuff. It's about family and warm fuzzies. A good breakfast together and fabulous memories. 

I love Ann's tree below. It is packed with ornaments that each have a special meaning from the years past. I hope to have a tree just like it one day.

James and I had a strict 3 present policy this year for Annie girl. We are so blessed and knew that Annie would appreciate each little present and probably already be overwhelmed. It was fun to pick 3 gifts that we really wanted to give her.  I think we will make this a regular thing. Keeping it simple made each gift so special and meaningful.

Santa had been wanting to get Annie a push along car for awhile now but he always fell in love with the pricey ones at Land of Nod. He and his elves did some scouring and found this perfect condition on craigslist for less than half the price. It was sitting perfectly perched under the tree waiting for the little miss! She was in heaven beeping that horn and twirling around the living room with Daddy's help. Big grins and lots of "vroom vrooms" were heard as she wizzed around the house. Christmas magic!

We wanted to stretch out her presents so we let her ride around a bit on Santa's big gift while we opened a few ourselves. I am always so amazed at my mother-in-laws wonderful creativity. Jim and Ann are always so sweet and generous to us and just know how to make us feel loved. We can't thank them enough for Christmas!

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree - look at this gorgeous wrapping job by Allison. Made from Trader Joe's bags! LOVE it!

Nana and Poppi gave Annie her first, special dolly. I was worried Annie wouldn't fully appreciate it but oh boy does she ever! That doll isn't a doll - it is her baby. We feed her, clothe her, bathe her, sing to her - and the list goes on. The last two months have been filled with nothing but kissing and loving on that little baby. 

Drinking break. Note the runny nose and red eyes! Still as chipper as can be!

Nana and Papa Staples sent lots of love since they were in Mexico for the holiday. Annie and I were thrilled with the Freshly Picked Moccs. I've said it before, but these puppies are worth the trendy hype. But my favorite gift from them was a book that my Mom read growing up about babies. It has a 70's feel to it and is just darling. It was the perfect gift for our dolly Christmas. Thank you Mom and Dad! 

That smile - on both of them. Seriously, the bitter day before made this day oh so so sweet!

James asked for Nerf guns! And I delivered - big time. He was thrilled!

 James gave me a fun surprise on Christmas morning that was really heartfelt. It's no secret that the last couple of years have been a wild ride as James has worked long hours. Christmas morning he was all sorts of mushy as he gave me my gift and it was as if all the emotion from the last 18 months came pouring out. I am a bit embarrassed about it now looking back as I sat on his lap and we both cried. What can I say, Christmas gets to us. I've been carrying the little note he gave to me in my wallet ever since. 

Another fun moment this Christmas was our movie! Both last year and this year we have compiled video footage from the entire year and made it into one video. I've decided not to share those publicly as they are my most near and dear moments. Last year we even had footage from the delivery room. These videos are quickly becoming very time intensive but soooo incredibly worth it! By far my favorite part of Christmas morning is watching that video with our loved ones. This year we sent it to my parents in Mexico and it was really fun to have them watch it from afar. I definitely missed the Staples side this Christmas. The one downfall James and I have is that our families live on opposite sides of the country. We always want more time with both families.

Our second gift to Annie was a little wooden camera. Annie is obsessed with my camera and, as you can imagine, that's not exactly ideal. She went to town and made all of us say cheeeeese. This was the perfect Christmas moment right here. She was so in love with her first two presents that we didn't even make it to her third. HA. I am not joking. We wound up giving her her stroller for her baby the next morning. I love how easily children are pleased. 

The Barkers pause during gift time to have a tasty breakfast. This was new for me but I really loved it! We stretched things out all day and just had a blast with our fun family. Annie took a nap during all of it and woke up even more chipper. Her health was truly a Christmas miracle.

Per tradition, the Inoueys came over that night for a wonderful dinner and a game of pass the present. It is always so fun to be with them. I love that James and I both have traditions with family friends during the holiday season.

Over the holidays I couldn't help but note how hard my mother-in-law works without a lick of complaining. She made a tasty Christmas dinner with a beautiful table setting and didn't even bat an eye. I can't thank Jim and Ann enough for this Christmas. I loooooved being in their home and just relaxing together. James and I have now spent four Christmases together - counting our dating year when I visited VA. In just four years the Barkers have truly become my family. There home feels like home. It was just what James needed this holiday season and just what I needed.

 Although the night before we were unable to participate in the nativity we still took time out during the month of December to focus on the real meaning of the season - our Savior Jesus Christ. I really wanted Annie to learn that this holiday isn't just about the presents. Although I think that is difficult for a child to wrap their mind around, I hope she enjoyed reading the story throughout the season. I am hoping I get better at teaching her the story as the years go on. We have several fun children's books that depict the story in a childlike way. Annie could point out Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. It amazed me how easily that came and I couldn't help but think she already knows this story. The older I get, the more grateful I am for my Saviors sacrifice and for the knowledge that he is there of us not only as the Savior from our sins but also the Savior of our trials, insecurities and difficulties. How blessed I am to have this knowledge. Merry Christmas to all (almost 2 months late)!

A Little Christmas Miracle

James and I packed our bags for a Virginia Christmas and hit the road on December 23. I was thrilled to be going to the Barkers. Our first Christmas we spent on vacation with them so this would be my first Christmas in James' childhood home. Mostly, I was excited to have my sweet husband around so often. 

On the way to the Barkers we noticed that Annie had a bit of a cough in the car… and then a fever. Christmas Eve morning we woke up to a pretty pitiful Annie. The poor girl was so sick. I've always said I can handle throw up, I can handle runny noses and ear infections. But for some reason coughs and fevers really scare me. The whole breathing aspect just gets me. Annie had a 103 degree fever that morning and was feeling pretty crumby.  I was quite emotional as Christmas is by far my favorite day of the year. Selfishly, I had been looking forward to her bouncing self flying up the stairs Christmas morning. I was debating taking her in to instacare but really didn't want to be dramatic (which the Staples tend to be when it comes to sickness). Finally, we just decided to do it to try and avoid an ER visit that night. I am so glad we did! We visited a doctor in the area. He didn't seem too worried till we took her shirt off and he could see her chest caving slightly so he gave her an antibiotic and said if it were him he would just start her on it just in case. It could have been viral but given that it was Christmas I wanted to give it a go.. so we did! 

That night things took a turn for the worst. Her fever continued and in between Advil dosages she would get incredibly lethargic. The most lethargic I had ever seen her. At this point I was emotional, James was emotional and we were all overtired. I asked James and his Dad to give her a priesthood blessing. I held Annie while he and his Dad offered the blessing. I cried like a blubbering baby as Annie lay limp in my arms. How grateful I am for Priesthood Blessings.

I laid back down on the bed with her and called my dear friend Melissa, who was working in the NICU that night. She listened to Annie's breathing and said to boost her dosage of Advil and to give it 12 more hours before taking her in. She kept me calm (again with the dramatic Staples side). I gave her an extra little zip and about 30 minutes later the most sudden thing happened. Going from a deep, deep sleep on my chest with panting breathing, the girl rolled off me and down to the floor and promptly asked for the toys. Away she went! We were in absolute shock! She definitely still had a fever but was acting much more coherent. We had sent the rest of the family to the Powers home for the Christmas Eve festivities. After about 30 minutes of her playing we scooped her up and visited the Powers home for a quick dinner. It was fun to see everyone… even if we were all a bit out of it. Annie went back into her labored breathing a bit before we got home. We gave her another dose and laid her down. 

James and I played Santa and set up her Christmas. I had a continual prayer in my heart and faith that things were going to turnaround through the night. It was so fun to set out Christmas as Jim and Ann watched over that night. I wouldn't change it for the world. Being a parent on Christmas Eve is the absolute best.

We slept with her in our bed and around 2 am Christmas morning her fever completely broke and the coughing subsided. It was a true Christmas miracle! Annie woke up bouncing and excited Christmas morning! Other than a little runny nose she was her chipper self. And I couldn't have been more relieved.

That Christmas Eve was a tough one for me as a Mom. There were a few things going on and I was feeling a particular weight on my shoulders that day. I desperately wanted to hold it together for our little family. Although the sickness was quite frightening I know that it was all for a reason. James and I had to really come together to realize what is important in our lives and really how happy we are to have our little family. Christmas was a bright spot in a quite hazy week for us as a little family unit. This Christmas made me grateful for opposition in all things. I am thankful for trials because it makes the happiness and miracles incredibly blissful. Even a small little thing like a cough can make you realize just how blessed you are on a bright Christmas morning.

The best part about this story is that I am quickly learning how common all of this stuff is with kids. As nervous as I get, I better get used to the sickness. I am learning it comes with the territory.

James' Office Party 2014

It is crazy to think we have officially lived in Charlotte longer than we did in California. The time flies when you have a baby. This was our second Christmas party with James' group. They have a white elephant gift exchange each year and I always struggle coming up with something. Last year we gave a Snooki book with a spray tan bottle. I thought it was pretty funny but it didn't seem to be a huge hit. This year I felt like we were going to be a huge flop. We took one of those animal hoodies with paws, kind of like the one on Shark Tank. It was an absolute hit and I was shocked! A big thanks to Kirby and Scott who watched Annie for us! All of the babysitters in December were really starting to add up so we really appreciated it! 

The next day his building had one giant office party on the trade floor. It was fun to take Annie in to the office and let James parade her around like a proud papa. She enjoyed playing basketball at their little hoop and opening as many file cabinets as possible. YIKES! I still say this is the best Santa I've probably ever seen. Isn't he cute? Apparently Annie thought so because she was THRILLED to see him. This would mark 5 times in 8 days. That must be some sort of record! But it worked. She loved Santa and also Frosty the Snowman who was not pictured.

Founders Hall Singing Bears

Every Christmas the Founders Hall building Uptown (Bank of America building) has these giant singing bears. I had heard so much about them and found them to be so southern. I loved everything about them. Quite cheesy, old and charming all at once. It was fun to see the contrast in bankers walking by with the kids running around in-between. We went for playgroup one morning and then headed to lunch after. I love these pictures of the kiddos. Big Annie and little Annie holding hands. It is just the best. Love these darling kids!

On the way home I let Annie walk along the sidewalk of the streets in Uptown. It was so fun to watch her discover the city around her. Pointing out all of the letters on the signs and smiling at all the business people as they walked by. We stopped in to say hi to Daddy before walking home. It was a perfect morning!


Relief Society Christmas Party

In late November I was released from my calling as the primary chorister and called as the second counselor in the Relief Society presidency. It was a very bitter sweet moment for me. I was thrilled to be working with my wonderful president and serving the sisters in the ward. But I was so sad to be leaving the primary kids. It was the perfect calling for me (and Annie). Luckily, I was able to kind of do both callings toward the end of the year as we finished out our Christmas program. I was so sad to say goodbye to those kiddos.

I was over our first get to know you party for the new presidency. Luckily, my incredible friend Kelli and her husband Chris were nice enough to allow us to invade their beautiful home. Kelli and Chris really went all out with the decorations. We had a hot cocoa bar where Chris made gourmet hot cocoa. There was a line the entire time. The best part of the evening was just feeling incredibly uplifted by the sisters. I am so lucky to be a part of the wonderful Relief Society organization and am thrilled to be in this new calling. 

Playgroup Gingerbread Houses

I decided to be brave and host playgroup in my teeny tiny apartment! I wanted so badly to do the gingerbread (graham cracker) houses. To my surprise the party went off without a hitch. Thankfully my cousin Adrianne gave me some wonderful tips a few days leading up to it. I had individual frosting bags at each station. I hot glued all of the houses together the night before. And I separated out all of the candy into different cups so that each kid only had a set amount of candy. I opened up the doors to my bedroom and Annie's bedroom so that everyone could roam from room to room. My friends brought over some snacks for Moms and kids and we went to town! It was madness! I think we wound up with 16 kids in my tiny place! No one had meltdowns and surprisingly it went well. I am sure everyone felt a bit cramped but it made my entire holiday season. Annie was in HEAVEN with all of her little friends at her house. She was especially in heaven with all of the candy and really didn't want much to do with building the house - just eating it. It was one of my favorite parties I have thrown and plan to do it every December!

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